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Composite Chassis

University of Plymouth


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Light Weight Composite Chassis

The ability to utilise appropriate materials to make substantial reductions in vehicle weight, whilst maintaining structural integrity and crashworthiness, is a major technical limitation of existing products. This project takes a radically different approach to material utilisation and manufacturing for vehicle chassis. We are seeking to formulate a design philosophy and construction system which allows the manufacture of primary structures in advanced materials to meet volume production requirements.

The project began with a unique collaboration between an undergraduate student team at the University and Simon Milton (jam@enterprise.net) who is now pursuing the project as a part-time research student. The immediate goals were to design and manufacture a prototype vehicle with a lightweight composite chassis, and to investigate its applicability to volume production as well as specialist markets.

A successful project was concluded in June 1996 with the assembly of a full size prototype chassis. This will form the basis for further design and manufacturing optimisation work.

Initial testing of the torsional rigidity of the chassis as a structure was performed. For a weight of 48 kg, the UniCar chassis achieved a torsional rigidity of 5900 Nm/deg and a bending rigidity of 6095 Nm/mm.

The table below shows comparative data for some chassis constructions: 'Reference' (current state of the art ), Ultra Light Steel Auto Bodies (ULSAB), aluminium extrusion construction (Lotus Elise) and the Unicar flat sandwich panel construction. 'Reference' and 'ULSAB' are monocoque, whilst the other two are chassis/body constructions.

  Ref. ULSAB Lotus Elise UniCar
Mass (kg) 271 205 68 48
STR
(Nm/deg)
kg
42.55 92.96 147.06 122.92

STR = Specific Torsional Rigidity

A paper (Composite Sandwich Panel Manufacturing Concepts for a Lightweight Vehicle Chassis) giving further details of the project was presented at 30th ISATA, Florence in June 1997. A version of this paper (in .pdf format) is available. You will of course need the free Adobe Acrobat reader. Please contact Stephen Grove sgrove@plym.ac.uk if you would like a hard copy.

EC and UK government funding for the continuation of this work is being sought. We would welcome enquiries from potential collaborators in this project.

The University would like to thank Hexcel Composites, Duxford, Cambridge, UK (phone +44 1223 833141) for their generous provision of F-board sandwich panel for this project, and Eagle Signs, Plymouth for assistance with machining.

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